Quick Hits: Ranking the MVFC Money Games
Across the country FCS teams will be taking on FBS teams in nonconference games over the next few weeks. The FCS does pull the occasional upset each year, but overall, the FBS dominates these contests. These games can be a great opportunity for FCS players to get exposure, and often get a fun experience playing in a different type of environment. At the end of the day though, the games are played for the money. The FBS team pays for the opportunity to get a low-risk tune-up before they play the more difficult part of their schedule, while the FCS school gets critical funding for their athletic department.
This year, MVFC schools are set to play in ten of these “money” games. Every league school other than North Dakota State is signed up to take the field against a team from the bowl division, and all these games occur in week one or week two. In 2019 the MVFC only won one of these games (Southern Illinois over lowly UMass). But they were very close in several others. SDSU lsot to Minnesota 28-21 after leading in the 4th quarter, Iowa State required three overtimes to beat UNI 29-26, Kansas beat Indiana State 24-17 and Illinois State gave up a late pick six in a 24-10 loss to Northern Illinois.
In this quick hitter, I will rank each of the MVFC money games. These will be ranked based on the likelihood of an MVFC victory from least likely to most likely according to the ESPN “Matchup Predictor”. I’ll post a short synopsis of each one as well.
10.) Missouri State @ Oklahoma State – 6pm – Saturday (0.5% Chance of a Bears Victory): ESPN’s matchup predictor says that if the Bears and Cowboys played two hundred times, Missouri State might win once. With all due respect to the Bears, I think that is pretty fair. MSU is going to be overmatched in this one, just like they were last year when they lost 48-0 to Oklahoma, and the year before when they lost 58-6 to Tulane, and the year before when they lost 58-17 to these Cowboys, and……well you have to go back to 2014 before you see a semi-respectable MSU-vs-FBS result (a 40-23 loss to Okie State). MSU could be a good team this year, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb predicting they won’t come out on top in this one.
9.) Indiana State @ Northwestern – 11am – Saturday 9/11 (1.2% Chance of a Sycamore Victory): Northwestern has won their division in the Big Ten two of the last three seasons. They lost a decent chunk from last year’s 7-2 Citrus Bowl winning squad. But this is still an above average Big Ten team. ISU didn’t play last season and was predicted to finish 10th in the MVFC. The Trees are a bit of a mystery after not playing last season and they could be better than pundits stay (a win over EIU in week 0 is a good start). They get an extra week to prepare for Northwestern too, and the Wildcats’ style of play tends to keep games like this closer than they should be. But Northwestern should ultimately pull away and win this one relatively easily.
8.) Northern Iowa @ Iowa State – 3:30pm – Saturday (2.2% Chance of a Panther Victory): This will be the toughest test any MVFC team faces in week one, as the Cyclones are rated #7 in the country. As I said in my week one preview, UNI has had quite a bit of success against Iowa State in the last 15 years. But this may be the very best Cyclone team of all-time. UNI might end up being a good team….they are kind of sitting in an in-between limbo right now……but we probably won’t get a chance to really see what they have until they take the field next week against Sacramento State on the road.
7.) Western Illinois @ Ball State – 6pm – Thursday (2.9% Chance of a Leatherneck Victory): To someone that is not educated in the FCS or group of 5, this may seem like a great opportunity for the MVFC at first glance. Ball State is not a power conference team, and they certainly aren’t a mid-major power. But this year, Ball State is a mid-major power. The Cardinals are the favorites to win the MAC after returning the bulk of a team that did it last year. Meanwhile, Western Illinois is picked to finish last in the MVFC and has only won two games the last two years. This is not a recipe for success. Right now, Ball State is a 29.5-point favorite.
6.) Youngstown State @ Michigan State – 11am – Saturday 9/11 (3.4% Chance of a Penguin Victory): The fact that Michigan State is down probably has a lot to do with the fact that this game is relatively high on the list. Although at 3.4% it still doesn’t set up as a likely Penguin victory. It feels like YSU is on a slow path back to decency and showed some signs of life last year despite their 1-6 finish. They will be better this year and were picked to finish 9th in the MVFC. Michigan State likely won’t have much trouble with them at home, though.
5.) Southern Illinois @ Kansas State – 6pm – Saturday 9/11 (6.7% Chance of a Saluki Victory): This is the last of four MVFC/Big 12 matchups and Southern Illinois is probably the best Valley team involved in any of them. They aren’t the most likely to win, though, as South Dakota gets lowly Kansas in their game. Southern has tough start to the season as they open on the road in a rivalry game with SEMO in week one, before heading to the Little Apple to face the Big 12’s K-State in week 2. If SIU wins either game, they’re in business for the remainder of the season. They probably won’t win this one, but they could.
4.) Illinois State @ Western Michigan – 4pm – Saturday 9/11 (11.9% Chance of a Redbird Victory): The Broncos are only five years removed from their 13-1 Cotton Bowl season (where they lost by eight to Wisconsin), and they have been bowl eligible every season since. It is true that WMU is not the same team it was back then, but this is still a solid MAC team. It feels like more than two years have passed since Illinois State put up a top 10 season in 2019 and started the spring season at #7. They are floating around somewhat aimlessly now after their 1-3 spring, picked to finish just 7th in the Missouri Valley. It could well be that they are better than that, and they’ll have a chance to show it against a good-but-not-great MAC squad here with a puncher’s chance to win.
3.) North Dakota @ Utah State – 8pm – Friday 9/10 (12% Chance of a Fighting Hawk Victory): The Dakotas seem to be our best hope, and NDSU isn’t even on the list. This is a matchup of a top ten FCS North Dakota team and a Utah State team that is picked to finish fifth out of six in the Mountain West Mountain Division. If North Dakota is as good as the ratings indicate, this number may be selling the Fighting Hawks short. Utah State is not a good FBS team, and if North Dakota is truly a top ten team at our level they should be competitive in this one. I think they are, and they will be. I don’t know if they’ll win, but this should be a good game. Would recommend.
2.) South Dakota @ Kansas – 7pm – Friday (22.5% Chance of Coyote Victory): Its not often you see an FCS team picked to finish in the bottom third of their league given a punchers chance against a Big 12 team. But Kansas is real, real bad! There are several FCS teams who would feel like favorites against the Jayhawks. South Dakota probably isn’t a favorite, but the Coyotes absolutely could win this game, which would be their third FBS (and second P5) scalp in the last decade and a half. Friday could be a crazy night in the state of South Dakota. The Coyotes are listed as a 15.5-point underdog right now and I’d put my money on USD and the points.
1.) South Dakota State @ Colorado State – 8pm – Friday (36.2% chance of a Jackrabbit Victory): Honestly, this one feels like a pick ‘em, and as the current betting line (CSU -2.5) nearly reflects that. ESPN gives the Jackrabbits about a 1-in-3 chance to win but I would put it higher. You’ve got the defending FCS runners-up, currently ranked #3 in the nation and picked to win the best FCS conference there is…..against an extremely mediocre group of 5 team who hasn’t had a winning season in a presidential term. Approach these games with trepidation though……as there will be no sneaking up on the Rams here. They know how good the Jacks are. But I still think SDSU might simply be the better team. If I were a gambling man (which I am not), I would put money on SDSU.
There you have it. I tried to rank these myself, but it was pretty much splitting hairs, so I went with ESPN’s automated opinion. Here’s to getting a few W’s from the games on this list. Go Valley!